The Ontario branch of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) held its 2020 annual general meeting virtually from August 26–28 to discuss submitted motions and review the 2020–2021 budget.
The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), primarily represented by Vice-President Public & University Affairs Tyler Riches, proposed five motions regarding decertification from the CFS, which the UTSU has been attempting to do for years.
However, none of these motions were debated or voted upon because a previous motion, titled N03, sent all motions deemed non-emergency to the Ontario Executive Committee (OEC) for discussion.
The other topics discussed by the representatives of CFS member locals were communication issues among unions and the federation’s response to anti-Black racism.
In a 2017 announcement, the UTSU criticized the CFS as “beyond reform” after a series of scandals, stating that it would actively support decertification from the federation.
The current decertification process requires a student who is not part of the union executive to initiate a petition. Union executives cannot spend their time on decertification efforts. Within a year, at least 15 per cent of the union’s members must sign a physical petition to trigger a decertification referendum. “For students taking a full-course load, this is an immensely difficult task,” Riches wrote in an email to The Varsity.
The CFS has not yet implemented online voting, though member locals have been calling for it for years. This year, when most classes will be offered remotely, leaving the CFS without online options will be even more difficult.
Under N03, all non-emergency motions were suspended and forwarded to the OEC this October for discussion, while motions the OEC could not deliberate on, such as bylaw changes, were postponed until next year’s meeting.
A major consideration behind this motion was online meetings’ lack of accessibility for some students. Although Riches acknowledged the importance of accessibility, he lamented that the CFS “did not find other ways to make this meeting more accessible,” and that, as a consequence, motions that would further empower U of T students to decertify the UTSU from the CFS were delayed for another year.
“It was disappointing that this was the outcome,” Riches wrote. Riches expressed frustration that students pay CFS fees, yet “will have no opportunity to exercise the only right afforded to them by the CFS.” Full-time undergraduate students pay $8.39 to the CFS each semester.
After the budget presentation, Riches also questioned an increase in the federation’s campaigning costs. The executives responded that because of the federal election and the need to promote membership due to the Student Choice Initiative, the OEC voted to increase funding for campaigns in 2019.
Motion to facilitate better communication
A motion proposed by local 49, the University of Windsor Students’ Alliance, would streamline communication between member unions. If passed, the CFS would be obligated to create a centralized directory of contact information for the executive members of each union. Moreover, a LISTSERV would be created so that any local could send mass emails to all other local member executives.
However, other member locals had some major objections. Local 54, the University of Guelph Central Student Association, argued that the proposition was logistically difficult and should be deemed non-emergency.
Riches moved to amend the motion by adding a clause granting executives the ability to opt out of the directory. Muntaka Ahmed, President of the UTSU, motivated the motion by pointing out that not every executive should have direct contact with the CFS, given that most member locals have an executive to fulfill this function. This amendment carried.
Local 97, the Association of Part-Time Undergraduate Students of the University of Toronto, then moved to send the motion to the OEC for consideration, decision, and implementation. This motion also passed.
CFS response to anti-Black racism
A motion moved by the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union was deemed an emergency because it demanded that the federation respond to the death of Regis Korchinksi-Paquet, an Afro-Indigenous woman, in the presence of six Toronto police officers.
It proposed that the CFS align itself with Black Lives Matter Toronto in condemning the Toronto Police Service and calling for the defunding and abolishment of the police. The motion also called on the CFS to develop education materials on police violence and systemic anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism in postsecondary institutions.
The motion passed with a unanimous vote and overwhelming support from member locals. During the discussion, Ahmed expressed her concerns regarding policing on U of T campuses, saying that police played a very harmful role in the community’s safety and well-being. She criticized Campus Police for its history of criminalizing racialized people and people with mental illness.
In the email, Riches echoed Ahmed’s insights and cited multiple incidents when Campus Police threatened the safety of historically marginalized groups. This included its failure to protect transgender and nonbinary students at a rally in 2016 and an incident when UTM Campus Police handcuffed a student seeking mental health support.
“It is the responsibility of the administration to reimagine the way that security is implemented on our campus, and find alternative solutions that don’t rely on the use of force, or the institution of policing as we know it,” Riches wrote. He argued that while hiring unarmed crisis workers is a start to improving the university’s mental health services, “actions like investing in robust 24-hour crisis support on-campus… and investing in online support for students who are not on campus this fall are all important actions that need to be taken by [the] administration.”
Editor’s Note (September 8): A previous version of this article claimed that Riches said that hiring ‘armed’ crises workers was a step in the right direction. This article has been updated to correct that he was speaking about unarmed crisis workers. The Varsity regrets this error.